Sometimes, when you want to remember where your heart is, you take a drive down a country road trying to find a farm where you can buy some cheese. And you encounter some dogs in the road.
This is common in the rural South, but it is the most uncommon thing to me. You see these dogs? They are unnaturally smart. I had ventured down a road with no name (actually, it had a name but someone stole the street sign), and there were the dogs. Sitting in the middle of the road. But they saw me coming and moved off to the side. They stayed there until I had passed and then moved back in the middle of the road. Try as I might, I could never get close enough with a camera to snap a picture of them in the road. Smart dogs. Why they like the middle of the road I don’t know.
I was on my way to Sequatchie Cove Farm to get some of their excellent Cumberland cheese. It is a raw milk cheese, which used to be impossible to find in this country. The farm’s owner, Bill Keener, fed us some at the Lodge Cast Iron brunch. Tangy, creamy, seductive. Bill invites us over to get some more cheese. Well, alrighty then. I’ll be right along.
Bill also says that the most popular item to hunt in his neck of the woods is street signs and the man is true to his word. There is not a single street sign the whole way to the Back of Beyond. I pass two sets of dogs in the road on the way to a narrow lane that reaches back almost to the mountains. And there, on the right, is a small sign that tells me I’m at Sequatchie Cove.
I am uncertain what to do. I had called to try to make an appointment but no one answered. I came anyway. I call again and a voice over the phone says the “trading post” is down by the black flatbed truck. I find it but nobody’s there. Then a beautiful, earthy woman comes sauntering down the path. It is Bill’s wife, Miriam. She is surprised that this stranger driving a Nissan Altima is just standing in her yard. Waiting for cheese. Please.
She sells me three wedges of the Cumberland. I think for a moment about asking her if I could tour their farm. There are organic vegetables and heritage pigs there. I would like to see them. But I have invaded their home unannounced for the sake of cheese. I have the cheese. So I leave.
I navigate my way out of the Back of Beyond, without the need for street signs anymore, and I think of Terrell. Terrell was supposed to be on this trip, but he is feeling a little poorly. For those of you who haven’t read far enough down this blog, Terrell is my forever friend, my absolute favorite boyfriend, the man who has taught me everything about the old Southern foodways. Terrell understands about dogs in the road. And the Back of Beyond. And just showing up asking for cheese.
There are national treasures in this land that are not made of concrete or granite. They are living and breathing. I had some of that Cumberland cheese tonight. And I thought of Terrell. And where my heart is.